Devastating footage shows the widower of a teacher killed in the Texas school massacre visiting a memorial to his late wife just hours before he too died of what relatives said was a broken heart.
Joe Garcia, 43, was filmed toting a large vase of red roses to the memorial site at Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday morning, two days after his wife Irma’s murder.
Just hours later Joe himself was dead of a heart attack, with relatives blaming the anguish of his wife’s passing for the fatal cardiac arrest.
The couple had been wed for 24 years; Joe was a teacher, while Irma was a fourth grade teacher at the now-infamous Robb Elementary School.
They were parents to four children, three of whom were filmed embracing one another at a mass to remember their parents later on Thursday night.
Those youngsters are Cristian, 23; Jose, 19; Lyliana, 16; and Alysandra, 12.
At one point Jose was seen weeping as he was overcome with the week’s horrific events.
Father Eduardo Morales blessed the three siblings who attended the service and told them: ‘We are your family. Your mother and father will always find a way to take care of you.’
Cristian is at military boot camp while the couple’s second son, Jose, attends Texas State University.
A GoFundMe page set up to help the Garcia children rebuild their lives had collected more than $1.7 million in donations by Thursday night.
After Tuesday’s slaughter at the hands of 18 year-old gunman Salvador Ramos, dozens of stories have emerged of individual tragedies and acts of heroism.
But the cascade of grief inflicted on the Garcia children is amongst the most upsetting of them all.
Irma was killed alongside her co-teacher Eva Mireles, 44, and 19 of their students by gunman Salvador Ramos, 18, who was then shot dead.
John Martinez, Irma’s nephew, said Joe died from ‘grief’ after returning home from delivering flowers to the memorial.
Irma’s cousin, Debra Austin, said she was ‘devastated to report Irma’s husband Joe has tragically passed away this morning as a result of a medical emergency.’
She added: ‘I truly believe Joe died of a broken heart and losing the love of his life of more than 25 years was too much to bear.’
Garcia’s husband and son can be seen in a Facebook photo holding a heart-shaped sign that reads ‘Proud Bobcat family,’ – a nod to the football team at Texas State.
Garcia was previously a nominee for teacher of the year.
She was one of 19 San Antonio-area educators named as finalists for Trinity University’s prize for excellence in teaching in 2019.
Garcia at the time taught third grade, specializing in social studies and ELAR, or English Language Arts and Reading.
‘I am so excited to begin this new school year already!’ she wrote on the school district’s website before the start of the school year.
Jose, 19, said his mother ‘treated her students as her own,’ and decorated her classrooms with college memorabilia, to inspire them to reach their academic potential.
‘She wanted to instill that in their brains,’ he said. ‘They were her lifeblood. She loved engaging with children and teaching them. She loved her job and she loved her co-workers.’
Survivors from the shooting have told how Garcia and fellow teacher Eva Mireles, 44, died shielding them from the gunman’s bullets.
‘She passed away with children in her arms trying to protect them,’ Garcia’s nephew John Martinez wrote on Twitter.
‘Those weren’t just her students, they were her kids as well.’
Mireles’ daughter revealed how her mother ‘jumped in front of students’ in a heartbreaking tribute on Wednesday.
‘I don’t know how to do this life without you, but I will take care of dad.
‘I will take care of our dogs and I will forever say your name so you are always remembered, Eva Mireles, 4th grade teacher at Robb Elementary who selflessly jumped in front of her students to save their lives,’ Adalynn Ruiz wrote on Facebook.
The grandmother of one of the children who narrowly escaped the mass shooting said her granddaughter heard Ramos say, on entering the room, ‘what do I have here?’
‘My granddaughter can’t take that out of her mind what he said… she had to run out the window,’ Anita Alves told ITV.com.
Mireles was trained in bilingual and special education, loved outdoor activities such as running and hiking, and cherished her husband, daughter and ‘three furry friends,’ according to a biography on the school’s website.
Her husband, Ruben Ruiz, is a police officer on the school district’s police force, the agency investigating the massacre.
Mireles’ daughter recounted on social media how her mother had asked her to take a picture to share on the school’s website.
‘I remember my mom making me take this picture of her and she had me take like 50 before she found one she liked, she wanted it to be perfect because she had to send it into the school website for her students to see, my mom had a special place in her heart for her students . Remember this hero,’ Adalynn Ruiz wrote.
Mireles’ aunt, Lydia Martinez Delgado, grieved for her niece in a Facebook post, asking for prayers for her family and the entire town of Uvalde.